eHealth attack doesn’t add up

by Charles Wright on March 2, 2012

According to an email message promoting her astonishing expose of an alleged $294 million blow-out in the budget for the PCEHR, and a comment piece in which she claimed that the project had “morphed into a lumbering monster that remains frustratingly out of everyone’s grasp”, The Australian’s Karen Dearne claimed that she spent “a solid three days, including most of the weekend” to “track down, make sense of and verify”  her story.

Unfortunately for the credibility of both Ms Dearne and The Australian, however, it turns out that the only factual morsel that can be gathered from her “detailed analysis of statutory records available from the federal Health Department, AusTender, the Senate Community Affairs committee and the Council of Australian Governments” is this: Karen Dearne cannot add up.

As Health Minister Tanya Plibersek told Parliament, there has been no budget blow-out. Ms Dearne seems to have double counted some of the sources of funding for the PCEHR and NEHTA.In short, it seems, accurately reporting on ehealth is out of Ms Dearne’s grasp.

Pulse IT magazine picks up the story this morning with some extensive quotes from the minister that constitute utter humiliation for the national daily and a serious indictment of its reporting standards:

“The $760 million figure cited in The Australian cannot be reconciled with either the personally controlled electronic health records system or the COAG funding allocations. It seems to have been reached by making significant errors in calculation, including the double counting of funds. They seem to have been simply added together and, in many cases, double counted.”

The recipients of Ms Dearne’s widely distributed email are likely to be re-assessing her claim that “Actually, I think this one is value for your paywall money, people”.

That should also include blogger David More, who completely fell for the flawed arithmetic, declaring that, “On the basis that these figures are about right – and let’s not quibble about a few million here or there – it is safe to say this is a bit of an overrun.” He really should have done some more quibbling.

It’s not as if we haven’t seen previous evidence that Ms Dearne’s pursuit of NEHTA has out-run her professional objectivity, and that she is incapable of accepting any version of reality that contradicts her views. Both NEHTA and DoHA told her she had got it wrong. As she does so often, however, she apparently categorised their comments as irrelevant, and attached them to the bottom of the story, as some sort of obligatory nod to the principle of balanced reporting.

It is surely undeniable that she has been engaged in a persistently negative campaign against NEHTA that, as I’ve noted previously, amounts to journalistic stalking of a group of highly experienced professionals working on a project of vital importance to the future of healthcare in this country.

So where is The Australian’s coverage of Ms Plibersek’s remarks? I’ve been using my paywall money to scour its website, using the advanced search tool, and I can see nothing. That’s the very least you’d expect from a newspaper that has made such a serious allegation. It’s a simple matter of fair play, particularly when its web site is continuing to run Ms Dearne’s allegations that the PCEHR development is costing $1.04 million a day in a prominent position.

And the next step must surely be either a defence of Ms Dearne’s arithmetic, or a prominent retraction.

In my opinion, it’s time for NEHTA and DoHA to look at the complaints procedure and some of the general principles of the Press Council:

  • Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. They should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers either by omission or commission.
  • Where it is established that a serious inaccuracy has been published, a publication should promptly correct the error, giving the correction due prominence.
  • Where individuals or groups are a major focus of news reports or commentary, the publication should ensure fairness and balance in the original article. Failing that, it should provide a reasonable and swift opportunity for a balancing response in an appropriate section of the publication.


Graeme Handle March 2, 2012 at 6:17 pm

What I have never, ever understood is the depth and extent of the evident hatred of anything NEHTA. It is the classic ‘make the facts fit the preconceived idea’ and if in doubt, make it up. I’ve been watching E-Health for years and NEHTA seems no better nor worse than any other program. The fact remains that we will have an E-Health system soon, and after that there is no going back. Better than the years of inactivity.

Thanks for your balanced viewpoints, Charles.

Paul Karen March 2, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Hi Charles

So I was wondering if there is a link on the NeHTA website where we can review the financial audit papers for ourselves?

My own search of the website produced one result. Here is the link for anyone who may be interested –

PS I wonder if most of the NeHTA bosses will be due for a nice fat bonus if they deliver on July 1st. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the extra money is needed?

By the way, I am a GP in the Hunter Urban region (??a wave 1 site I understand). I have seen zip e-health activity so far and wonder to whom and for what the money has been allocated in my region. Care to comment?

John March 5, 2012 at 11:13 am

In response to Dr Karen I understand that you practice in a corporate practice and the practice have chosen not to participate

Paul Karen March 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Sorry, John, but you’re wrong.

1. Just spoke to the boss who said that our Medical Centre had been approached by the Medicare Local and that they were going to get back to us to discuss the issue further ( I have one of the “Healthcare Organisations Membership Agreement” contracts on my desk as I type). We ahave not heard anything back as yet, and that was several months ago. (In all fairness, I don’t think this contract relates to the wave 1 site issue, though). No decision has been made at the management level re our participation, as I understand.

2. It is news to me that I work in a “corporate practice”! Would you care to enlighten the readers (and myself) exactly which corporation I actually work for?

Paul Karen March 5, 2012 at 4:06 pm


This has lead me to wonder what wave 1 activities have, in fact, been planned or have been undertaken in the Hunter Region? I noted one Consumers meeting last year, one evening meeting at the local public hospital for clinicians, and several articles in the local paper re the early establishment of the PCEHR. In addition, a quick scan of the Medicare Local website doesn’t comment on any wave 1 PCEHR activity (but again, in all fairness, maybe I am looking in the wrong place for such information).

Paul Karen March 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm
John March 6, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Paul I am project manager for the Wave 1 Hunter project and I am more than happy to walk you through the activities that have taken place todate. I can be contacted through the Hunter Medicare local office . What I meant by a corporate is a practice where contact has been made with the practice owner and not necessarily directly with the GP’s who are employed in that practice.

Paul Karen March 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Hi John

Thanks for your reply. I would be happy to meet with you in the future and I will call you to arrange a suitable time.

Kind regards


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